[lg policy] Linguistic hygiene: Do You Have a Foul Language Policy in Using Social Media?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Sep 11 16:28:01 UTC 2011

Do You Have a Foul Language Policy in Using Social Media?
by Rachel Blom

Earlier this week, British youth worker Liz Fisher asked this in a
tweet to the #ywchat community on Twitter:

It’s a very interesting dilemma. We all know as youth workers that
Facebook and other social media are an excellent way of connecting
with your young people.  After all, Facebook still is the dominant
website for youth. Following our youth on Facebook gives us a glimpse
into their life, but that includes some stuff that we’d maybe rather
not read or see, with foul language being one of those things.

What should we do then when we’re confronted with foul language and
even profanity in our social media contacts with youth? First, let’s
make it clear what we’re talking about without actually making a list.
In my opinion, there are two types of foul language: profanity, those
words where God’s name or Jesus’ name is used in vain, and other crude
words. Personally, I have a much bigger problem with the first one
than with the second one. Let me explain.It’s important to realize
that your opinion on what constitutes foul language may very much
depend on your culture. Therefore, your foul language policy will most
likely be based upon what’s acceptable in your culture as well. Just
remember that people from different countries may have different
cultural values when it comes to foul language, so a little grace and
understanding would be good here.

Being Dutch, I’m used to certain words that an American would consider
very offensive for instance. They’re the same words, they just have a
different meaning, a different cultural value. Let me give one example
(and please don’t get offended, ‘m really trying to explain something
here): in many Dutch churches, saying the s-word isn’t considered a
big no-no. Even older, mature Christians may use it.

However, whereas Dutch non-Christians will usually curse a lot and use
profanity, this is absolutely not done among Christians. The American
habit of saying ‘oh my God’ for instance, even among Christians, is
one that really doesn’t go over well with Dutch Christians. I can say
in all honesty that I never, ever curse or use God’s name in vain. I
absolutely detest it and I don’t want to be around anyone who does it.

That brings me back to Liz’ question. My policy is that I tolerate
foul language, as long as it’s not profanity. The reason is that I
want to accept young people as they are, I want to truly connect with
them and that means tolerating some behavior that’s not perfect. Jesus
visited sinners without asking them to change first, I think I can do
the same. They changed after an encounter with Him and I’m hoping and
praying the same will happen to my students. But until they have a
real encounter with Jesus, I can’t expect young people to change their
behavior and become more Christ-like.

(And let’s be honest. If using foul language is the worst of their
behavior, they’re not doing that bad. I’m often more concerned when I
see pictures of them drinking and partying, having their arms around a
boy or girl they’ve just met. )

But I can and will ask young people to stop using profanity. If I see
them do it, I call them or take them apart at a youth service or so
and kindly explain why I have such a big problem with profanity. I
tell them that it’s a sin, one of the first God mentioned in the Ten
Commandments. I tell them that it hurts Him to have His glorious name
reduced to a foul word. And I tell them it hurts me, because I love
God more than anything and will defend His name. I ask them to refrain
from using profanity and tell them if they don’t, I will unfriend

I’ve had to do this three times so far and in all cases, the young
person in question responded favorably. They were all somewhat ashamed
actually and promised me they’d stop swearing. Well, I did actually
see the occasional crude word in their updates, but overall they got
the message.

Well, Liz, I hope that helps you define your foul language policy in
using social media with your young people. This was another round of
our Friday tradition of ‘The Question of the week’. Do you have an
issue you’d like advice on, leave a comment!

How do you handle it when your youth using foul language on Facebook
or other social media? Do you agree with my advice?


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